Snow fleas? Pull the other one!

(If you don’t like tiny creepy crawlies, I suggest you go and look at a different post!)

On our walks in the woods recently we have once again noticed little black specks on the snow. Until now we thought it must be dirt from the machinery used for forestry or from old tractors driving through the woods, but this year it was extreme and so we took a closer look…

Here we saw that where tracks are (from tractor tyres, deer, our footprints, skis etc) there is more of this ‘dirt’. Could it be soot? Is our air so bad? Here, in the middle of nowhere, with no industry for miles…

When we got home my Man of Many Talents googled for ages, trying to find something about it, and when he showed me what he had found I was AMAZED! He went back to get more photos so we could check the facts!


Now I’m going to get even closer…

They are SNOW FLEAS! Now, maybe we are the only people in the world who have never heard of snow fleas before, so I hope I am not showing my ignorance, but aren’t they simply incredible? Here are several hundred or even thousands of them gathering in the hollows of tracks.

Now a little information that we found in German, summarized:

Snow fleas come out of the ground in February/March when the temperature is just above freezing. They are often thought to be soot, as they cover the snow quite thickly in places. But these ‘specks of dirt’ are all the same size (around 1 millimetre long). They can crawl and jump (about 10cm high). However, they aren’t actually fleas, but springtails, so Wikipedia says they are technically not insects.

They emerge at temperatures of about -3°C, and live on fungi, pollen or algae which provide them with a special protein that functions as a kind of antifreeze. They prefer damp forests with evergreens. It is a real migration at this time of year, as they use the snow to move more easily and to search for food and for new ground where they can increase their population.

For scientific purposes my Man of Many Talents let some crawl across his hand, and we think they are actually smaller than 1 millimetre…

So, please let me know if you have ever encountered these fascinating little creatures and any extra information would be very welcome!


Interesting links:




70 thoughts on “Snow fleas? Pull the other one!

  1. How very extraordinary! I have never heard of them or seen them before. Maybe the climate is not right for them here, or maybe I’ve just never seen them. Fascinating! Thanks to your Man of Many Talents for going the extra mile to show us all these amazing creatures. Nature constantly astounds. Thank you for sharing.

    • I think a lot of people have never really noticed them, even if they see them, as they are only visible on snow and are so small they aren’t recognizable as being alive! I agree. Nature never fails to surprise!

  2. That’s a very brave hand to allow a background hold for a photo. I’ve never heard of this creature or phenomenon ever – but the name snow flea does capture the imagination. What a discovery! Thank you so much for sharing! Please share if you learn something more about them.

    • Temperatures above about 10°C are deadly for these creatures which survive as larvae over summer, lying dormant until the right conditions come round to start all over again… what an existence!

    • Yes, I suppose they might be around on higher ground in Italy but Wikipedia did say ‘northern’ Europe. There are lots of different kinds though.

  3. I have never seen something like that, and that’s fine with me!
    The idea that they jump as well as crawl makes me a little nervous, and it brings on flashbacks to visiting a neighbor’s house during a flea infestation. I have heard that sand fleas exist as well, and that would also be on the list of things I don’t need to experience. Nature is amazing though, isn’t it 🙂

    • They don’t bite and hate warmth, so wouldn’t pose any danger to people at all! I also hate the thought of any biting creatures, but these somehow don’t bother me. I find it amazing that they are only active when it is freezing cold and spend the nice warm summer dormant!

  4. I have read about these creatures but I have never seen them. It seems odd to see such a small creature out in the snow and cold.

  5. We have snow fleas in Maine, and I have seen them while on walks in the woods. Thanks for the additional information. How neat that they provide their own anti-freeze. Nature is a marvel, isn’t it?

    • It is a marvel indeed Laurie, and it is nice to hear that someone out there has seen them and identified them before. And even more amazing is that I read that scientists are looking closely at the proteins they consume and how they produce this kind of ‘antifreeze’ in the hope the knowledge can be applied to preserving transplant organs or for making ice cream! 😀

  6. Oh yuck! My daughter has been drinking and cooking with snow whilst her pipes were frozen. Who’d have thought it would be crawling with these flea things. I read about spring tails recently in a book, ‘Reservoir 13’. I was baffled by references to these creatures. The book is set in the Peak District where I grew up and I have never seen them or heard of them before. Thanks for showing us.

    • Frozen pipes? Oh dear, hope that gets fixed soon. I think these creatures probably do only live in woodland though. I had heard of springtails, but thought they were something else!

  7. How fascinating Cathy – a new to me creature too. The Man Of Many Talents deserves a medal for going above and beyond the call of duty. I like the German word for them. I must hop off now as I’m feeling rather itchy.

    • Yes, this may explain a ‘substance’ we have noticed on standing water in the woods in spring and autumn, which looks sort of oily. We must look out for it again this year.

  8. Cathy fascinating discovery. I have never seen them. Mother Nature is marvellous and your man has had a lot of patience on the computer to find what it was. You are two great researchers! Greetings from Margarita.

  9. Fascinating. I do believe I’ve seen them at times, but not following tracks so obviously as this. You’ve inspired me to check out back in the woods tomorrow and see if I can find them. I wonder if they provide a great food source for birds or other wildlife? Cool post!

    • I suppose they would be a real feast for the birds, but a lot of the ones trapped in the tracks might be dead… I wonder if they would be eaten. I must do more research! 🙂

  10. I certainly have never heard of snow fleas, Cathy! A great piece of research! I makes me think of how we’ve heard that a cockroach would survive a nuclear holocaust. Apparently fleas are in a similar category and survive what nothing else would! I think as long as they stay outdoors in the snow and don’t migrate indoors near the fire, you’re okay! LOL!

    • 🙂 Cockroaches and tics are the worst creatures ever… a horrible thought that they might be the only survivors of a nuclear attack and might define future life on our planet! LOL!

  11. Love your post as I scatter seed all day long for my visiting flock of Juncos I know these are out there for them to feast on as well 🙂

  12. It is amazing that they are able to thrive in such cold temperatures and apparently barren conditions. Wiki says springtails are reputed to be the most abundant macroscopic animal and I have never seen any – yet. Amelia

  13. Cathy, what an extraordinary post. I’ve never heard of them either and agree that they’re quite fascinating. I’m glad to read that they aren’t really fleas, which are a horrible nemesis for cats and dogs, but something with a catchy name and a quirky habit of sliding around on the snow. It’s wonderful learning and seeing new things.

      • That’s nature for you. So much going on as you say right under our noses. I’m often amazed when I download photos from the garden to realize a spider was right under my nose, undetected. I love that.

  14. Cathy, this was fascinating! I’m glad you went to the trouble of looking them up, and equally glad they are harmless! 🙂 Unfortunately, you roused my curiosity enough that I decided to look up sand fleas in Arizona (obviously snow fleas aren’t likely to live in the low desert!). Sand fleas, however, are true fleas, and now I have just read up on discovery of two flea populations carrying plague in Arizona in 2017… 😦 Also I now know that the non-mosquito bites I get in summer are from no-see-ums. Name is not quite worth the itchy bites! So much for my investigations! I think snow fleas sound much more fun! 😉

    • ‘No-see-ums’ sound creepy! Sand fleas don’t sound too nice either. We went to Scotland late summer one year, and the ‘midges’ were out – tiny biting insects in their thousands! I hardly slept a wink the first night! 😉

  15. I have seen them while hiking in late winter in the mountains – but never in such a massive grouping. The first time I saw them I couldn’t believe my eyes! Fascinating post, Cathy – I’m sorry for getting around to it so late! Just trying to catch up…. 🙂

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